Quality of Working Life - An Exploration of Contributing Factors and their Relative Salience to Employees

  • Katherine Blackford

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


The academic study of Quality of Working Life (QoWL) has a long tradition, vestiges of which are apparent in the classic job satisfaction and employee motivation research (see for example, Mayo and Warner, 1931; Maslow, 1943; 1932; Blauner 1964; Hertzberg, 1966). The intervening years have witnessed the accumulation of a broad, complex and, at times contradictory, literature relating to variables identified as impacting on QoWL. The potential value of investing in enhancing QoWL cannot be underestimated. Indeed, enhanced QoWL has been associated with a wide range of positive business benefits, including (but not limited to) improved business performance, greater employee creativity, enhanced employee commitment to the organisation, reduced intention to quit and lower levels of sickness absence. For employees, enhanced QoWL has been implicated in reducing work-home conflict, increasing job satisfaction and reducing physical and psychological ill-health. In short, there are compelling reasons why QoWL should be the subject of further scrutiny and exploration. Indeed, from the perspective of application, while illuminating, it might be concluded that the breadth and complexity of findings has had the effect of sponsoring inertia, rather than action on the part of many employers.A further observation is that, methodologically, very few studies to date, have been firmly rooted in employee perspectives. Rather, the mainstream approach is characterisable as top-down and based upon correlational evidence; with each new study either tending to add detail as a product of a narrow and specific focus and/or simply adding to the list of salient variables. In recognition of this, this thesis set out to re-focus on core components of high salience to employees. This was achieved though the adoption of a mixed methods approach, that commenced with a qualitative investigation of employee accounts of variables impacting on QoWL. To provide a degree of verification and examine the generalisability of these findings a second more structured study was carried out, involving the development of an employee questionnaire suitable for Principal Component Analysis. Lastly, a third, complementary investigation used the method of paired comparisons to test the relative salience of headline influences on employee QoWL.The key research objectives overall were firstly, to undertake a qualitative exploration and characterisation of employee perspectives on variables that impact upon QoWL and to discover how, and in what ways, these variables are important to employees (Study 1). Secondly, to undertake a quantitative study, based on a large and diverse sample of employees, to examine25the factor structure of headline influences on QoWL to verify and confirm the findings from Study 1 (Study 2a). Following on from this, the objective was to explore and provide comment on the scope for developing an organisational psychometric measure with the capacity to profile employee ratings of QoWL (Study 2b). And finally, to determine the relative salience of core components of QoWL and explore the degree to which employees share a common perspective in this respect (Study 3).Rooted in employee perspectives, Study 1 provided insight into not only which variables are important, but how and in what ways they are salient to employees. This qualitative insight revealed a high degree of parity in what employees perceived as important in determining their QOWL, with emergent themes relating to peer relationships, relationships with one’s manager, perceptions of the degree to which the organisation supports it employees, ability to work flexibly and working hours, opportunities for career progression and development, fair treatment and drawing satisfaction from one’s work, all common points for discussion across the sample.Study 2 set out to triangulate on these findings, but also afforded the opportunity to discover new linkages and combinations of variables. Accordingly, within this study a Principal Component Analysis performed on the data produced six interpretable and nameable constructs with high face validity that accounted for 58.4% of the total variance, the output from which was used as the basis for development of a 45-item proto-scale, representing the following constructs: Reward, Recognition and Fair Treatment; Leader-Member Exchange; Development, Investment and Training; Flexibility; Job Satisfaction; Work-Life Balance. The constructs were mapped back onto the themes emergent in Study 1 and reflected broad parity with the themes. Exploration of the data by age, Socio-Economic Status (SES) and gender revealed significant differences in relation to attitudes to Work-Life Balance and Job Satisfaction across the three demographic groupings, indicating that a ‘one size fits all’ approach to enhancing QoWL may not be appropriate.In an effort to gain greater understanding of the relative salience of QoWL constructs, the Method of Paired Comparison (Thurstone, 1927) was utilised (Study 3), and a psychophysical scale of QoWL constructs was generated. Results indicated the relative primacy of Job Satisfaction and Balance between Work and Home Life. Tests of demographic differences by employment sector revealed some evidence indicative of shared perspectives over the relative salience of components of QoWL.Taken together, the homogeneity of constructs identified using a variety of different methods lends confidence to having identified a set of headline QoWL components. These are considered26to be: Reward and Recognition; Leader-Member Exchange; Development, Investment and Training; Flexibility; Job Satisfaction; and, Work-Life Balance; which, while these components are not claimed to be exhaustive or definitive, they do appear to be both meaningful and salient to employees. A more fundamental finding seems to be that the salience of these constructs to employees appears to be determined by their relative paucity/absence, rather than reflecting satiation, indicating a model of attrition, whereby the absence of such components of QoWL results in employee dissatisfaction.In conclusion, the research presented here represents an exploration of aspects of QoWL most salient to employees evolving from a perspective grounded in employee perspectives (Study 1). Study 2a offers the basis for future development of a QoWL measure intended to enable organisations to assess the current level of QoWL, such that investment can be targeted to enhance those areas highlighted as lacking, with additional insight (Study 2b) into where demographic differences may need to be taken into consideration in the application of QoWL interventions. Study 3 represents the first of its kind in the application of the Method of Paired Comparison in relation to QoWL and offers insight into the degree of parity across demographics in relation to the relative salience of QoWL components to employees.Overall, the degree of demographic diversity of participants within this study is considered a key strength of this research; most previous QoWL studies having been limited to single organisations/occupational groups. Whilst the insights gained are considered to be of relevance to employees, but of greatest salience to public policy makers, employers and employee representatives in targeting QoWL related interventions for maximum impact, both to the organisation and to employees.
Date of Award24 Feb 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SponsorsHealth and Safety Executive
SupervisorAndrew Weyman (Supervisor)


  • QoWL
  • LMX
  • Flexibilty
  • Work

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